The facade of Perugia’s medieval splendido city hall, Palazzo dei Priori is graced by steps fanning out that lead up to the Sala dei Notari (Notaries Hall).
The flight of steps – created in 1902- signals the last architectural intervention on this palazzo in over seven hundred years of history. In this print of 1895, do note the previous flight of stairs:
The oldest section of the Palazzo dei Priori is that housing the Sala dei Notari constructed in various phases between the late 13th and mid-15th centuries
If you climb the stairs leading up from the central piazza of Perugia, Piazza IV Novembre, you’ll enter an elegant ogival portal sculpturted in local white limestone.
The late 13th-century bronze statues of the striding griffin and lion – symbols of Perugia – above the door seem to be proud guardians of their Perugia:
Chains dangling below the griffin and lion link to a bolt extending out over the door. Both the chains and bolt are warfare booty from Siena, proud symbol of Perugia’s victory over Siena in the battle of Torrita di Siena, 1348: one of the longest battles ever fought in medieval Italy.
Perugia’s griffin – that mythical creature which is part eagle (kind of the sky) and part lion (king of the land) – will appear again on this facade of city hall for it represents courage and wisdom, nobility and force: friends and enemies must clearly understand what Perugia embodies.
In limestone relief – which seems to me to be the pink limestone quarried on Mt. Subasio (backdropping nearby Assisi) – the crowned rearing griffin prances just above the two tri-partite Gothic windows up to the right of the lion.
A wonderful depiction of three-dimensional perspective in this late 13th-c./14th-century relief:
Inside, the elegant vaulted hall – supported by eight Romanesque arches,- the late 13th-c fresco decorations cover the walls, the motifs representing the myths, values and inspirations of one of medieval central Italy’s most important cities.
The overall aspect of composition strongly links to the pictorial work of the 13th-c Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi but with a layman’s theme rather than a predominantly religious one. The individual representations do tap into Biblical figures but also into romanzi cavallareschi (tales of chivalry), fabliaux (short comic, tales of medieval French storytellers), bestiari (illustrated medieval texts centered on animals or beasts) and Esop’s fables as well.
And of course, Perugia’s griffin will be an oft-depicted figure:
On the back wall nearest the exit, the various coats-of-arms of Perugia’s administrative figures – the podesta’ and the capitano del popoloare – are depicted.
Originally called, “la Sala del Popolo,” the vast room later was no longer “of the people” but for the notaries. In the late 16th-century, Papal delegate, Cardinal Alessandro Riario, promoted the renovation of the hall in response to request by the Notaries’ Guild. The notaries then had it set up as we see it today order to hold hearings in it. Noble elevated walnut seats with parapets and balustrade are built in 1583. At that time, bookrests for litigants were also added as here the local notaries guild met here to judge civil cases.
The image below – showing the medieval notaries participating in the February 2nd procession of the Candelora (candles carried to celebrate Christ’s presentation in the temple)- is from a 15th-c matricola (document bearing the names of guild members), now amongst the extraordinary treasures of Perugia’s Biblioteca Augusta:(Did you note the griffins on the early 15th-c processional banners?)
Radically altered during three centuries of Papal domination of Perugia, the Sala dei Notari was fully restored after 1860.
Nowadays, the Notaries Hall has returned to the people and is the site of conventions, congresses, musical and cultural events of a wide variety.
This year due to COVID, Perugia’s annual springime Festival Internazionale del Giornalismo has been canceled.
What memories of joining many – including hundreds of young people – in the Sala dei Notari for debates and presentations by world-renowned journalists.
And often on Saturday nights.
This photo was taken from right under the griffin and lion at the door of the Sala dei Notari as all wait to enter. Ever seen such a long line of young students – in chilly rainy weather – waiting on a Saturday night – for a lecture on journalism?
Another line. Another night: